Tuesday 27 August 2019

The day before

My maternity/parental leave ends tomorrow.

August 28th, 2019 sounded like a very long time into the future when I was filling out my leave forms in January 2018, which I still clearly remember doing. The last weeks of work (as it turned out, the last at my former school) passed in a haze of appointments and squeezing in just-one-more-task. 

But this is the crazy thing about the future: if you are lucky, it does actually arrive one day. Tomorrow’s the day.

I am probably the calmest now that I will be about it, as my expectations are still unformed. I wasn’t able to go into school early because somebody broke into the building and made a mess, and teachers were specifically told to stay away till official entry day. That probably was not a bad thing (for me: obviously not at all a good thing generally).

I’ve tried to prepare my personal life and my kids’ lives so that for the next few days I can focus on the preparation and teaching part. Won’t go into all the details (there are a lot of details, and not gonna lie, I really kind of enjoy fussing over them). But underneath it all is a feeling of stillness and rest I hope I can maintain. And it comes from the knowledge that everything is passing.

The past two days I took Dani to visit her daycare, which is AJ’s old daycare. And I remembered (sometimes) crying a little after I dropped off AJ, especially the first year. Then I remembered crying - a lot - a few months ago when we withdrew AJ and had to say goodbye to all the staff. Will it be a similar story with Dani? Either way....none of this is permanent. All the busyness, all the nerves, all the details and preparations. It reminds me to live in the moment, which does make me less anxious. The anxiety will be back, taking up residence in my stomach in a few hours: I know this. (Do you have any good smoothie recipes to recommend? You will be doing me and the people who depend on me a world of good.) But these moments, of anticipation, of breath-stopping reality, of potential weaving with time into kinetic energy: they will never come again. And so whatever else they are, they are endlessly precious.


Friday 16 August 2019

Maximum responsibility

At some point in my early 20s, I realized my greatest fear was being useless.

It was probably the year I spent being unemployed after my first degree. I learned a lot about who I was during that year. Prior to that, if you asked me who I was, I would have talked about how I was a creative person, thoughtful, intellectual etc. I certainly would have described myself as hardworking and conscientious, because that was true. The other things are true too. But my life experiences also mainly involved going to school and university and working at summer jobs, getting good grades and job reviews, and having people tell me how smart I was and how I could do anything. I certainly experienced difficulties , but nothing that took me apart or sent a broadside into my world view. 

After I graduated with my BA  honours, my plan consisted of finding a job somewhat related to my degree, working for a few years, then maybe going to grad school. Unlike many of my fellow grads I had taken the cooperative education program, and worked in areas such as web development, conference organizing, marketing and desktop publishing. I thought I had it going and would find work easily.

Instead I spent a year living with my parents and applying to jobs, and getting almost no response. It might have been that there was a recession. It might have had something to do with the fact that when I was a student, my employers got a subsidy from the government for hiring me, which gave me an inflated idea of my employability. Whatever the case, I had two job interviews in a year, and I wasn’t offered either job. However, they are representative of the sorts of things I was applying for: one was to work for a wine seller writing descriptions of their wine, the other  was at a small academic publisher. 

By the end of that year I had reached a conclusion: if it was this bloody hard to get a job, then the job had better be worth it. I was not going to expend my energy doing something trivial. And that’s how I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. 

In hindsight I am extremely grateful for that year of unemployment and failure. If I had gotten one of the jobs I applied for, it might have taken me longer to learn that crucial lesson about myself. I might have continued with the delusion that I knew and was enough, when the truth was I needed to take risks and try things that I wasn’t (yet) good at. But that year really, really sucked. If you gave me a choice between reliving the worst moments of my life, and reliving the year of unemployment, I’d choose the worst moments of my life. Except for the time I thought I was miscarrying. 

Fast forward to the present:

I return to full time teaching at the end of the month after an 18 month leave. AJ is starting kindergarten and Dani will be in AJ’s old daycare (which we liked a lot.) I am starting a new job in a program I haven’t taught before. I teach special education which is partly like typical teaching and partly like having another family: a very big complex one involving A LOT of patience and skill and teamwork. 

Beyond that, Mr Turtle is also working full time and in the process of registering as a psychologist, which takes a significant amount of money and some time too. It will be worth it in the long run but it is part of the reason it makes sense for me to work full time, as is the fact that Mr Turtle also has a chronic condition managed in part by expensive medication.

My mom is also in her late 70s and increasingly needing more help with things. Our relationship has been changing the past couple of years as more and more she comes to me and my brothers for help in crises and for basic problem solving. She still manages her regular routine well and is physically healthy but anything out of the ordinary is a problem. It is a challenge but we are using resources in the community and doing assessments and trying to address each issue methodically. We all agree that we need to plan for the future before there is a real crisis.  We still have fun with my mom as a family, so that’s heartening.

Overall....this feels like a lot. And of course those are only the things I know about....what about all the unexpected possibilities? It’s enough to keep me awake some nights and I know the anxiety and intensity will cause me to lose at least five pounds in September....no doubts there. 

What calms me is the realization that this is who I always wanted to be: a person who matters. I could have made different choices in my past, maybe better ones, who knows. But whatever I did couldn’t have been too wrong because it has brought me to the point where I can take on maximum responsibility. Of course that is a subjective term: what is the maximum? I can’t say for sure but it is probably more than I believe I can do. That doesn’t mean I won’t ask for help or delegate: it’s one of my goals to do exactly that in the next few months. What it means is I’m (mostly) not trying to run away from what I can and should do. I’m not seeing it as an oppressive force denying me the life I “should” have.  The life I have is exactly the life I should have. 

More thoughts on responsibility  that I have found helpful and thought provoking.

 Not to be too heavy, I also plan to have a lot of fun. Looking at the last week:

  • I helped my mom at the bank when she was targeted by a scammer. (She didn’t lose any money). Worked with very helpful bank staff to  put in place protections. Communicated successfully with my brothers so they can help too. 
  • Did some fun back to school shopping with my daughters and my mom cane along to help as well. Ok it’s not always fun to shop with my almost five year old VERY opinionated daughter but it all turned out well. 
  • Had a play date with my good friend at a community event, then took care of her son for an afternoon while she took her mom to an appointment for cancer diagnosis (I know, nothing gets simpler and easier. But the kids and I had fun.)
  • I managed to make a pot of soup for a former colleague who had foot surgery.
  • Something about August makes me want to bake. Latest was a cake pan of blueberry lemon bars. It happened to be a day I was doing a lot of errands and appointments so I divvied them up and left a few with every person I saw. This made me happy.
  • Went to an appointment with my mom, a social worker and occupational therapist (still need to write that one up). Saw a lawyer to update her will and other documents, then helped her but a bathing suit and we went swimming with the kids.
  • Washed and organized all my work clothes so I don’t have to think about them the last week of vacation (which Mr Turtle also has off) except to feel good about how on top of things I am.
Well I could go on and on but you get the idea. Life is happening. It comes at me and the people around me in waves and we grab the nearest floaty thing and surf them. It can be scary and overwhelming and also fun.